The Writer's Corner
The Next Step…
Chapter 44 – The Arrivals
Written by Deanne Bertram
The cool temperatures of November had arrived and found Mark
anxiously waiting for the arrival of the afternoon train. Hoping
his surprise was going to be worth it.
The train pulled into the station and Mark watched for the
livestock car. Other passengers, getting off the train, saw Mark
wearing the Deputy badge, stopped and asked questions, the
direction to the hotel or the restaurant. Soon Mark felt a hand
on his shoulder and turned to see his Uncle Johnny and Aunt
Colleen behind him. Family hugs were shared.
“Uncle Johnny, Aunt Colleen, what brings you back to North
Fork?” Mark asked.
“A little matter of family,” Colleen answered, as she opened her
heavy shawl and showed she was in “a family way”. “Besides,
Thanksgiving is only a few weeks away, Johnny and I felt it was
time to spend it with family instead of traveling all over the
country. Time to think about settling down, too.”
“Congratulations!” Mark exclaimed as he hugged his aunt again.
“Well Mark,” Johnny stated when they were distracted by a horse
screaming and men yelling, from the direction of the livestock
car. “We heard shortly after we got on board, that we were
sharing the ride with a stallion to be delivered to a Mark
McCain in North Fork. He’s caused all sorts of commotion each
and every time the train’s stopped. You set to retire Blue Boy?”
“Not yet. But Pa’s been thinking on retiring Razor, Uncle
Johnny,” Mark answered as they walked towards the livestock car.
“I’d sent a wire to Hope’s father, knowing the army gets in a
lot of good mounts, that if there was ever a good horse, the
army didn’t want, I’d be happy to buy the horse and asked Seth
to ship him my way.”
“I tried to get a look at him our first stop, but the wrangler
wouldn’t let me in the car,” Johnny stated.
They could hear the horse kicking and snorting. Mark walked up
the ramp, with Johnny just behind him. Mark whistled as he saw
the horse in the stall. Mark approached the stall and saw a
beautiful black, bearing four white legs, up to the knees, with
a razor thin blaze running down his nose. The blaze bulged out
next to the horse’s nostril, almost giving the blaze the look of
a saber. Mark looked his conformation over and liked everything
he saw. The horse was a little taller than Razor and larger
boned. The horse tried to charge the door to his stall, then
From the shadows they heard, “You folks better get out of here.
He’s a mean cuss,” the wrangler stated as he started to raise a
bull whip towards the horse.
“Drop it mister,” Mark answered as he leveled his rifle towards
the wrangler. “You’ll not take another whip to MY horse.”
The man looked at Mark and saw the badge. “Your life. All I was
supposed to do was feed and water him and make sure he got here.
He’s your problem now.” The man turned and walked down the ramp.
Mark took a few minutes to quietly talk to the horse, telling
the horse how he hoped he’d come to enjoy his new home. Mark
opened the stall door to be greeted by the horse rearing again.
Mark stood his ground, he didn’t back up. He looked the horse
straight in the eye. “There boy. You’re never going to be
mistreated again. Pa will definitely see to that. You just
settle down and we’ll get you out of here and over to the
livery.” Mark pulled a sugar cube from his pocket. The horse
tentatively sniffed Mark’s hand, then lipped the sugar cube.
Mark rubbed the stallion over his eye. “Sweet tooth, huh?” Mark
asked as the horse started nosing Mark’s pocket, looking for
more, as Mark pulled another cube out and gave it to the horse.
Mark hooked the lead line to the horse’s halter and motioned for
Johnny to step back.
“Want some help there, Mark?” Johnny asked.
“Nah, I think one on one’s going to be best right now. Though,
I’d appreciate it if you would see that anyone standing outside
gets back. Not sure what he’s going to do when he sees a crowd
Mark led the stallion from the livestock car. Just as they
reached the bottom of the ramp, the train whistle blew, causing
the stallion to shy and rear, forelegs pawing at the air.
After getting the horse back under control, Mark stated, “Uncle
Johnny, I’ll let you and Aunt Colleen get settled at the hotel
and I’ll get Blade settled at the livery. My shift will be done
in a few more hours. I’ll stop by and we can head home. See you
Mark kept a firm hold on the lead line as people scattered away.
With his rifle in one hand and a prancing stallion in the other,
Mark headed for the livery.
Nils was there when Mark walked in. “Whew, what a beauty! I
always thought Razor was a good looking horse, but his fella.
When you gonna tell your Pa?”
“Not exactly sure. First I want Blade to settle down. Keep him
here for a while and I can work with him during the afternoons,
before I head home,” Mark replied. “I think it’s best if we just
let him be for the day. See you got plenty of hay and water for
him, thanks Nils.”
“I weren’t nothing Mark. Come by any time,” Nils said. “By the
way, was that your Uncle Johnny I saw earlier?”
“Yes, seems he and Aunt Colleen are thinking on settling down
and calling North Fork home. Can I borrow the buggy this
afternoon to get them out to the ranch?”
“Sure Mark, any time, you know you can.”
Mark rode Blue Boy next to the buggy carrying his Uncle Johnny
and Aunt Colleen out to the homestead.
“You should know, a lot has changed at the ranch since the last
time you were here.”
“Oh?” Colleen asked.
“Hope and I have our own home,” Mark stated.
“Finally got tired of living under your Pa’s roof?” Johnny asked
with a smile.
“Guess our letters didn’t catch up with you. There were just too
many babies under one roof,” Mark replied.
“Too many babies?” Johnny asked.
“Oh, you’ll get to meet Little Ted, Joshua, and Zachariah when
we get home,” Mark answered.
“Triplets?! Who had triplets?” Colleen asked.
“No one, but Hope and I have twin sons, Joshua and Zachariah.
They were born the day after Ma gave birth to my brother, Little
“Oh, just wait until I get to teasing your Pa,” Johnny stated as
he rein slapped the horse to move him along a little faster.
Lucas came out of the barn carrying an ax blade, stopping short
as Johnny pulled the buggy to a stop in front of him.
“Hello brother!” he hollered.
“Johnny! Colleen! When did you get in? We didn’t know you were
coming!” Lucas happily answered as Johnny climbed over Colleen
to jump down and shake hands. It had been so long.
After Johnny assisted Colleen in getting down from the buggy,
Mark said he’d tend to the horses. Then he’d bring the family
over once he had helped Hope feed and change the boys.
As they entered the house, Johnny stated, “So I understand
you’ve been busy. I’ve another nephew!”
Lucas answered, in seeing Colleen remove her shawl, “I see I’m
not the only one who’s been busy, brother!”
After hearing their visitors’ arrival, Milly came from their
bedroom. Welcoming the family back and asking when Colleen was
“Should be some time the end of March, Milly. Mark told us
you’ve a son?” Colleen asked.
Milly showed them to the door to their room and introduced them
to the sleeping Theodore Scott McCain. “He finally fell asleep
just a few minutes ago.”
“Well I’ll be. Lucas, he’s the spitting image of you.” Johnny
stated as they quietly returned to the front room. “’Bout time
one of your children got to looking like you and not their ma.”
“And Mark said he and Hope have twins?” Colleen asked. “And they
were born a day later?”
“Yep.” Lucas stated.
“Can’t get over it. Grandpa Lucas! Knew the day would come, boy,
it just doesn’t seem possible,” Johnny stated as he shook his
“Tell me about it!” Lucas stated with a laugh. “Come on, what
brings you back to North Fork other than showing off your handy
work?” Lucas asked his brother-in-law.
“Lucas!” Milly exclaimed.
“Sorry Colleen,” Lucas stated as he lowered his head in apology.
“Milly, don’t fret. Colleen knows how Lucas and I used to be,
before he marrie…” Johnny stopped.
Walking to Johnny and placing a hand on his arm, Milly stated,
“Johnny, Margaret’s memory doesn’t upset me. I’m thankful to
have her memory in this house. She’s part of Lucas and Mark, so
that makes her a part of me. As are you. You’re a part of this
family and you’ll always be.”
“Thanks Milly,” Johnny stated as he placed a kiss to Milly’s
“So how long to you plan to stay this time?” Lucas asked.
“Before you set to wandering?”
“Lucas,” Colleen answered. “We were thinking about settling in
North Fork. To be with family.”
“What about your own family?” Milly asked, looking to Colleen.
“Milly, I love my family dearly, but there’s something about
this family that… I just don’t know how to explain, but when
Johnny and I found out about our baby, he said we needed to
think on settling down and asked where. Before I could even
think on it, North Fork popped out of my mouth.”
“Johnny, I never thought I’d see the day you married nor did I
ever think I’d see the day you’d call one place home,” Lucas
stated as he slapped Johnny on the shoulder.
As they were talking, they heard a small knock on the door from
“Papa?” Myra called.
Lucas walked to the door and opened it. He knelt down to his
“Did you finish your nap?”
“Yes. Me come out?” she asked.
“Okay,” Lucas picked Myra up in his arms and carried her to the
“Myra, I’d like you to meet…” Lucas looked to Milly in how to
“Uncle Yohnny,” Myra stated.
“You were just a baby the last time he was here. How…” Lucas
stated as he looked to Johnny.
“Mark picture,” Myra stated.
“Okay Myra, this is your Uncle Johnny and your Aunt Colleen,”
Lucas stated as Johnny took Myra into his arms.
“Well you sure have grown. How’s my favorite niece?” Johnny
stated as he lifted Myra high in the air, to her squeal of
“Good girl. Me good girl.” Myra stated as Johnny set her to the
Myra walked over to Colleen and placed her hand to Colleen’s
belly and asked, “More brothers?”
Milly and Lucas laughed. Seeing the expression on Colleen’s
face, explained that Myra had blurted out in church that
Zachariah and Joshua were her brothers as well. She didn’t quite
understand the real family relationship.
“Lucas, I can’t wait for the day when you have to clear up that
little misconception. But then I guess Colleen and I aren’t
helping the matters either. How’s Mark taking everything?”
Seeing Mark and Hope, carrying the boys, walking past the front
window, Lucas stated, “We had a rocky patch earlier this summer,
but all things considered, life is good.”
Mark and Hope entered the house and introduced Joshua Lucas and
Zachariah James to Johnny and Colleen. Again, Myra proclaimed
them her brothers.
As Johnny looked at the baby in his arms and the baby in his
wife’s arms, he looked to Mark and stated, “Mark, your Ma would
be so proud of you. Oh, how I wish Margaret was here to hold
them.” Then turning to Milly, “No disrespect meant Milly, it’s
just Margaret so loved children. I know how much it tore at her
loosing the other baby and leaving Mark an only child. She would
have loved being a Grandma just the same.”
“Pa?” Mark quietly asked of Lucas. “Ma had another baby?”
Lucas looked to Mark, Mark had been so young and then there had
never been a reason to talk… Lucas excused them from the room.
He placed a hand on Mark’s shoulder and walked him to Myra’s
room, closing the door behind them. “Mark, I’d told you in the
past how for the first month of your life, your Ma was really
sick and couldn’t take care of you.”
“Well, you were a little over three when we found out we were
expecting a second child. But your Ma…, she never fully
recovered from having you. She always remained small and a
little more on the frail side. She wasn’t as strong as she was
before she had you. She was four months into the pregnancy when
she miscarried. The doctor told us, she’d never be able to bear
another child and if she did, it might kill her. That’s why you
become all the more special to your Ma. I never said anything
before because… a baby that you never knew, just didn’t seem
important to say anything.”
Lucas watched Mark as he tried to understand this new fact of
his father’s life.
“Pa, I understand. Do you ever wonder what…”
“Mark, I used to wonder every day. But I finally stopped, after
your ma died. Her death struck you so hard, I couldn’t imagine
what it would have been like if I’d had two young children to
“Pa… I…” Mark started.
“Mark, you don’t need to say anything. The good Lord blessed us
with the miracle of life, you. We never regretted having you. I
also understood what you were going through when Hope was sick.
It brought back all my fears from when I was… Mark, I was as
worried for you as you were for Hope. I didn’t want you to go
through what I had gone through, in losing a wife. Now, we just
need to be thankful for the family we have and love them like
there’s no tomorrow.”
“Yes sir. Even more so.” As Mark looked to his father, he asked,
“Does Milly know? I mean, she didn’t seem surprised with what
Uncle Johnny said.”
“She does. I told her after I found out she was pregnant with
Myra and she had kept it a secret. It made our relationship even
stronger. There are lots of memories that when Milly was here
the first time, I couldn’t tell her, but now that she’s my wife…
It’s only proper that she understands why I feel or act the way
I do. Especially when it comes to her and our family.”
In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, Lucas helped Johnny and
Colleen look over several homes that were for sale in North
Fork. Johnny had accepted a part time job working with Nils at
the livery as well as working at the Feed and Grain. Who better
than a former rodeo rider to help people with the selection of
horses or feed. As well as planning to hire out to Lucas during
the spring and fall, for planting and harvesting. Lucas then
introduced Johnny and Colleen to John Hamilton and vouched for
them when they inquired about a loan for what portion of the
purchase price, they didn’t have money to cover.
Afterwards, they stopped at Lou’s for lunch.
“Well, I hear the McCain Clan is ever growing again. Soon,
you’ll be taking over the whole town,” Lou stated with a twinkle
in her eye. “Johnny, Colleen, we’re glad to hear you’ll be
calling North Fork your home.”
“Thanks Lou. We’re really looking forward to living here and
raising our child,” Johnny stated as he reached over and patted
Colleen’s pregnant belly.
“Then, you’re invited to the Drako, McCain, Torrance, and Gibbs
Thanksgiving feast here at the hotel. The men get the dining
room organized and the women spend the afternoon in the kitchen,
cooking and trying to keep the men folk out of the food, until
Thanksgiving morning arrived with the McCain families arriving
in town. Lucas and Mark walked their families into the hotel,
then he and Mark took the team over to the livery. As they led
the horses inside, Lucas noticed the new horse. After placing
the team in their stalls, Lucas walked over to look the new
“Wow, Nils sure has one fine horse here Mark,” Lucas stated. The
horse stuck his head over the half wall and sniffed at Lucas, as
he began scratching the horse over the eye and continued eyeing
the horse over.
“Pa, why don’t you go on in and give him a real good once over,”
Mark stated, trying to hide a smile from his face.
“No Mark. I don’t think it would be proper. He’s not my horse.”
“Actually Pa, he is yours.”
“Pa, if you want him, he’s yours. He arrived the same day the
Uncle Johnny and Aunt Colleen did. I’ve been letting him settle
in and doing some ground work with him during the afternoons,
when I’ve been in town. I’ve been trying to figure out when to
present him to you.”
After seeing the expression on Lucas’ face, Mark continued, “Pa,
he’ll turn three come spring. Hope’s father shipped him over.
After you said you were thinking on retiring Razor and before
Hope took ill, I wired Seth, inquiring about good horses and if
they received any that were too good for the Army, I’d be
interested in buying one. Well, Blade here was the best horse to
“Mark you really shouldn’t have done this. You should have saved
your money to spend on your family.”
“Pa, you are my family.”
Pulling Mark into a hug, “Son, I don’t think I could have found
as good a horse as him. Thank you. Blade you say. You named
“No, Seth did. His blaze almost looks like a Saber. Razor and
Saber sounded too close alike, so he called him Blade.”
“Well, come on, before Micah, Johnny, and your Uncle Johnny
start yelling that we made them do all the heavy work.”
Upon their arrival at the restaurant, Lucas announced Mark’s
gift to everyone.
“So that’s what was taking you so long. Kinda figured it might
be. That’s why we been sitting around, waiting for you two to
help with the heavy work,” Micah stated as he stood up from his
seat. “Okay men, we got to make this look like we know what
we’re doing. Can’t have the women folk chastising us.”
After arranging the tables and chairs, setting the tables, and
bringing in firewood for the fireplace, the men folk started to
sit down and relax.
“Not quite so fast, a few of you have youngsters that need to be
taken upstairs. Bottles fed, diapers changed, and children put
down for naps. We think you should tend to them. You can take
them from the kitchen and up to room ten. And you Mr. Gibbs, you
can help by taking your niece upstairs and put her down for a
nap,” Lou stated.
“Me?” Johnny exclaimed.
“Yes, good practice for what’s to come in the next few years,”
Colleen called from the doorway.
Seeing Micah smiling in his chair, Hattie called, “And you,
Marshal Torrance, you can just help Mark with one of his two.”
“They’re his two, not…” Micah started.
After hearing the rest of the women in the kitchen laughing,
Drako stated, “Men I think we best do as they request. They hold
the ace. They can refuse to feed us later.”
“Well you know they’re already planning for us to do the
dishes,” Mark started to complain.
“Son, stop while we’re ahead,” Lucas said with a laugh.
Later that afternoon, the ladies brought a wonderful feast to
the dining room. Before anyone could take their seat, after
Lucas said grace, Mark said, “Pa, there’s one tradition that’s
been missing for a long time. A tradition that Uncle Johnny told
Lucas looked from Mark to Johnny, who nodded.
“Well, since this is the Drako, McCain, Torrance, and Gibbs
Family Thanksgiving feast, maybe you should start, Johnny,”
Johhny Gibbs took a step forward from where he stood and spoke,
“What Colleen and I have to be thankful about, the good Lord has
seen fit for my wife to bear us a child next year. And we look
forward to calling North Fork our home.”
“Drako,” Lucas stated. “You’re next.”
Johnny Drako took a step forward, “What Lou and I have to be
thankful about, such wonderful friends and an ever growing
“Johnny!” Lou exclaimed, allowing her Irish brogue to shine
through. “I was going to tell you tonight, how…? Did Doc Burrage
“Wife, your temper softens when you’re with child. Don’t you
think I’d know?” Drako stated with a ‘devilish’ smile on his
Hearty congratulations were given from those present.
“Micah,” Lucas said.
“What Hattie and I have to be thankful about, living in a town
like North Fork and calling it home. But more importantly,
realizing, it doesn’t matter how old you are… Love is grand,”
Micah stated as he gave Hattie a kiss on the cheek. “But there’s
one more item. Most of you know that I’ve been thinking of
stepping down as Marshal. It’s been a long time and… well, North
Fork deserves the best and you’ve got it, in my two Deputies,
Johnny Drako and Mark McCain. I’ll help out when there’s a need,
but I want my stepping down to be on my terms, not because some
outlaw forces me to. I plan to make it official after the first
of the New Year.”
“Micah,” Lucas stated. “You’ve been a loyal defender of this
town. I know you’ve trained your deputies well and that North
Fork will be in good hands.”
Then turning to Mark, “Mark, I think that leaves you.”
“Pa, if I may, I’d like to go last.”
Looking carefully into his son’s eyes, Lucas agreed. “What Milly
and I have to be thankful for…, I’m thankful for my eldest son.
Seeing him grow up from a young boy to become a man. I’m
thankful to a woman who understands my past and was willing to
accept it as she became my wife. We’re thankful for our two
youngest children. The blessings of laughter in our house. We’re
thankful I, we have a wonderful daughter-in-law and two blessed
grandsons. And friends such as you.”
Mark stepped forward and pulled Hope to his side, placing an arm
around her waist. “What Hope and I have to be thankful for…
First, I know it wasn’t easy growing up, just Pa and me. I’m
honored to grow into a man he and others say they can be proud
of, Lord knows how hard Pa tried.” Mark waited for the laughter
to subside. “Then there’s Milly -- better late than never. Ma,
it’s really great to have a mother and I want to thank you for
accepting me as your son and giving me a sister and a brother.
Then there’s my wife, Hope. Growing up, I always dreamed of
being a rancher, just like Pa. Now, I’m a rancher and a deputy,
as well as a full time husband and father.” Mark continued,
looking into Hope’s eyes. “Never could I imagine life being
married or having children, until you came into my life. Now, I
can’t imagine life without you. We have two blessed sons.” Then
looking around the group, “But more importantly, we have an
expanded family that most people wouldn’t understand. Though
there are a few members of our family missing, I ask the Good
Lord to watch over Seth, Ethan and Annie Lane. …Over the years,
we’ve commented at one time or another how much we consider each
other as family. I’d like to propose, the ‘considering’ ends
today… Today, we are family and that is truly something to be
There wasn’t a dry eye in the room as Mark finished. “Amen” was
heard from everyone. As the group was just finishing sitting
down, the train whistle could be heard arriving at the depot.
Mark and Johnny stood.
“Johnny, Mark not today. Please?” Lou pleaded.
“Lou, tradition is tradition. We’ll be back in a few minutes.
Everyone go ahead and fill your plates,” Johnny stated as they
Johnny and Mark pulled on their jackets and hats, while Johnny
picked up his gun belt and Mark, his rifle, and headed to the
train station. As they came to the caboose, Jesse stated, “Sorry
we’re running a little late today. We were under orders to wait
for a special delivery for you Mark. They’re getting their
horses from the livestock car. Oh, you might want to go ahead
and see to the woman waiting in the depot.”
Mark walked into the depot and tapped the woman on the shoulder.
As she turned, he called, “Annie?!” as he proceeded to hug her.
“You know, some men might take offense to another man, accosting
their wife, Mark,” Ethan called from the doorway. “How are you
Mark? Did we a make it in time for dinner?”
“Sure, we just sat down, but how’d you know? If we’d of known
you were coming, we would have waited,” Mark answered.
“Hope wrote in her last letter about your Thanksgiving feast.”
As they stepped from the depot, Mark introduced Annie to Johnny.
They stopped at the livery and put the horses up, prior to
proceeding to the hotel. Before he left the stable, Seth stopped
by the stall Blade was in. “My, he’s filling out. I think I was
right in sending him to you for Lucas.”
“Does Hope know you’re coming?” Mark asked.
“No, seems we kind of like surprising her, and you,” Seth
stated. “I hope we’re not causing too much inconvenience.”
“Inconvenience, I want to see my nephews and I don’t care how
much we inconvenience the parents,” Ethan stated. And for that
he received a sound elbow in the ribs from his wife.
“Say Mark,’ Seth stated. “Have you told Lucas about Blade?”
“I did when we arrived in town this morning. He stood admiring
him when we were putting up our team. Tried to get him to go
look him over, that’s when I told him Blade was his.”
“Men, you can either stand out here talking horses all day long
or you can accompany me to the restaurant,” Annie called,
chastising the men.
Mark and Johnny entered the restaurant and started to pull
another table from the side and place it in the middle with the
others, then they picked up and brought over three more chairs.
“Johnny,” Lou started to ask. “What’s this all about?”
“We found a few strays, straggling in on the train. They looked
like they could use some of good cooking. They’d been on the
train for quite a while.” Johnny answered.
Mark stepped to Hope and whispered in her ear. Hope turned in
her chair and a large smile crossed her face. Mark pulled out
her chair as she stood and then ran to greet the rest of her
“Everyone, as I said. This is one very large family gathering
and it just got bigger. Everyone, I think you’ll remember Seth
Lane, Hope’s Father. As well as Ethan. And I’d like to introduce
to you Ethan’s wife, Annie.” Mark continued to introduce Annie
to everyone present.
Everyone took their seats. Lucas carved the turkey and handed
out the plates. Then bowls of mashed potatoes, gravy, green
beans, and cranberries, and stuffing, and plates of bread and
butter were passed. Conversations varied among those present as
all enjoyed their Thanksgiving Day.
After dinner was finished, Mark stood and started collecting
“A deputy doing dishes?” Annie asked.
“Yep, seems the women feel us men folk don’t work nearly as hard
as they do today. So, the men folk get to clear the tables and
do the dishes, while the ladies get to relax and chat. Though to
me, they did just fine chatting while they were cooking.”
“Mark McCain!” Hope exclaimed.
“I was just explaining, so no one would laugh when they see a
deputy with dishpan hands, later. You best hope no trouble
breaks out in town tonight. Not sure if after washing all the
dishes, my wrinkled hands will be able to handle my rifle.”
Seeing the women start giggling, Lucas stood and said, “Come on
son. You’ll get no relief from these good women, until the task
While the men folk were ‘stuck’ in the kitchen, Lou, Milly,
Hattie, and Hope went upstairs. “Annie, if you’d join us?” Hope
asked. “Colleen, why don’t you keep my father and brother
company. We’ll be back in a moment.”
Shortly all five women came back down stairs, each one with a
child in their arms.
Hope and Annie walked to Ethan and Seth. “Father, Annie has
Joshua. Ethan, this is Zachariah.” Hope handed her son to her
brother. All the other children were introduced as well.
Later that evening, Mark stated it was time for him to walk the
town and asked Seth if he would join him.
As they neared the church, Mark stopped. “Sir, I owe you an
apology for what happened after the boys were born. Pa never
said how much longer you stayed after I ran. But I want you to
know, I’m ashamed for my actions.”
“Mark,” Seth stated. “I experienced firsthand what Hope’s mental
state was, the day it all began. She didn’t even want me around.
Then your Pa told me what happened in Romero and before, with
Micah and Johnny. I was upset, in the beginning, when you ran
away from my daughter. Your parents keep me posted via wire in
how Hope was doing. Lucas wrote me a lengthy letter after your
return. It took time, but I came to understand you were dealing
with some pretty strong worries and doubts about yourself.” Then
placing a hand on Mark’s shoulder, he said, “Mark, I accept your
apology. What matters is, you returned to my daughter and my
grandsons. And what I’ve seen today, I feel you did a lot of
growing up when you were out there. You’re so much more
confident and assured of yourself, than you were before.”
“Don’t know if I really grew up when I was gone, but I’ve done a
lot since I got home. I’ve spent a lot of nights, when I first
came back, talking with Hope. And during the days, when Pa and I
were out working the ranch, I talked with him a lot. Sir, I
can’t imagine life without Hope or the boys and I’ll never run
away again. That, I can promise you.”
“I know, Mark.”
“Sir, if I may. How much of Hope’s life do you remember from
“I don’t understand what you’re asking?”
“Seth, the beginning of October, Hope contracted chicken pox.
She was extremely sick, more so than any of the children who
contracted the illness. Doc said she could have died.”
“Ma told me later that Pa tried to wire you, but was informed
you were out on patrol and wouldn’t be back for two weeks. By
that time, she was recovering. Do you remember… are there any
other illnesses that we need to be especially careful around
“Mark, I honestly don’t remember. I know she’d have colds every
now and then and I remember measles and scarlet fever. I’m sorry
I can’t be any more help.”
“That’s okay. We just have to be prepared to treat Hope as soon
as the boys show any symptoms.”
Word had gotten out and a large crowd gathered around the corral
at the livery, the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Everyone watched
as Mark let Blade into the corral. “Not sure what all the fuss
is about,” Mark stated.
Johnny Gibbs walked up to Mark and answered, “Don’t you remember
when your Pa was trying to break Duster for you? How exciting it
“Sure, but I’ve been working with Blade and I don’t think he’s
as ornery as Duster was. I’m mean, sure he’s a stallion, but
he’s not as wild or as old as Duster was when we tried breaking
“Anyway, a horse breaking is as good an excuse to get the men
folk out of their homes and away from their wives,” Johnny
stated as he slapped Mark on the shoulder. “You want me first
“No thanks, Uncle Johnny. This is my present to Pa, so I guess I
should do it,” Mark replied.
Lucas rode Razor into the corral and took one lead line from
Mark. Both Johnny’s, Drako and Gibbs, helped hold Blade still
for Mark to mount. Once Mark was in the saddle, both feet in the
stirrups, and halter line set, Drako and Gibbs ran away. Blade
stood still. Lucas tossed the lead line to Mark and trotted
Razor to the railing. The men around the corral started whooping
and hollering, trying to entice the stallion to start bucking.
Lucas watched, pushed his hat back on his head, as Mark started
riding Blade around at a walk. Turning the horse left and right,
then stopping him. Mark heeled the horse and he started walking
again. Mark heeled the horse a little harder, which caused him
to give three good bucks, which sent the men to whooping again.
Lucas was pleased that Mark was able to stay in the saddle.
After the last buck, Blade started trotting around the corral,
changing directions as Mark asked.
Most of the ranchers and town folks left, when they realized
there wasn’t to be any real excitement. The rest of Mark’s
family stood and watched in amazement. They’d never seen any
horse react to having a rider on them for the first time like
this horse was. Soon, Mark was loping the horse around the
corral, with an occasional buck here and there. Mark halted
Blade in the middle and waited for Lucas to ride up and grab a
lead line. “Well I never!” Lucas stated.
“Why don’t you try, Pa! Give him a test ride. After all, he is
your horse,” Mark suggested as he stepped down.
Mark hopped up on Razor while Uncle Johnny and Johnny held Blade
for Lucas to mount. Again the scene repeated itself. “Just ask
him lightly Pa.” Within minutes Lucas was walking, trotting, and
loping Blade around the corral, still every now and then, the
horse threw in a good buck.
After putting their horses in the stalls for the afternoon,
Uncle Johnny came up to Mark, “Mark, I’ve never seen anything
like that before. He’s had someone else break him, right?”
Seth came up behind Johnny and said, “No, he wouldn’t let anyone
put a foot in the stirrup at Fort Sam.”
“So you sent my son a rogue horse to give to me?” Lucas asked,
not quite believing.
“No. I had a feeling that Mark could bring the horse around. I
knew this horse was too good for the army. He deserved someone
better than most of the wranglers we have to break the horses.”
Ethan came up and congratulated Mark on taming the stallion and
asked him how.
“I just took my time, let him investigate all the equipment and
took everything gradually. I’ve put weight in the stirrups and
I’ve pulled myself up and laid across the saddle, but today was
the first time I’ve sat on him. Honest,” Mark swore.
“Men, I can tell ya, I’ve watched everything Mark’s done with
this horse and today is the first time anyone’s rode him,” Nils
said as he wiped his hands on a rag.
As they were heading to the restaurant for lunch, Percy Bullock
stopped the group asking if they knew where Doc was.
“I saw Thadd heading over to the General Store a little while
ago,” Micah offered. “Anything wrong with Tessa or Mabra?”
“No, no, they’re fine, but Abigail ain’t. She was visiting us
and started not feeling too good,” Percy replied as he headed to
the General Store.
Mark and Lucas headed over to the boarding house. Inside, they
could hear Abigail screaming and found her laying on her side in
the parlor. Tessa cradling her head in her lap.
“Mrs. Tolliver, do you have a sheet to cover her and towels to
wrap the baby?” Lucas asked.
“Yes, yes, I’ve got some,” she replied.
“Go get them,” Lucas stated. Then turning to Tessa, “Tessa,
Thadd should be here in a few minutes. Just keep talking to her
like you’re doing. It may not seem like much, but it is
Mark ran to the kitchen and started warming some water in order
to bathe the baby afterwards. He returned to the parlor to hear
Tessa stating, “Mr. McCain, I can’t do this. I’m no good at this
kind of thing. I hate blood, please, don’t make me stay.”
“It’s okay Tessa,” Mark stated as he picked up Abigail’s head so
Tessa could get up, then he laid Abigail’s head back in his lap.
Brushing her hair from her face, talking, hoping he was
comforting her. Mark took Abigail’s hand as a strong contraction
hit. “It’s okay, Abigail, just squeeze my hand.”
As Tessa ran upstairs, the front door opened, Thadd and Percy
ran in. “Percy, Tessa ran upstairs,” Lucas stated. “I think she
could use your comfort, go on boy, get upstairs.”
“Thadd,” Mark stated. “Do you want to move her to the clinic?”
“I wish she were there, but I don’t want to parade her through
the streets. Mrs. Tolliver, I’m sorry that your parlor is going
to be occupied for a while. Could you heat some water?”
“I’ve already got a couple pans on the stove,” Mark replied.
“But you probably want to keep them from boiling.”
“Thadd, do you want me to go get any of the women to help you
instead of Mark and me?” Lucas asked.
“No. I could use some friends here with me. Mark, help me roll
her onto her back. Abigail, we’re going to roll you to your
back. Just breathe in deep. Mark on three, one, two, three.”
As they were turning her another contraction struck and she
started to resist, Abigail wanted to stay on her side. “Abby,
please, we have to get you onto your back. Mark, again on three,
one, two, three.”
This time Abigail didn’t fight them. “Mark sit her up more,
you’ll be her support. When contractions start, help sit her up
more, in between, let her rest back against you.”
“Abigail, just breathe and try to relax in between contractions.
When they hit, you need to start pushing, if need be, just keep
squeezing Mark’s hand to. Mark, I’m sorry,” Thadd stated.
Keeping up a running litany.
Lou came into the parlor and took hold of the sheet Lucas had
been holding up. Shoo’ing Lucas out of the parlor. “Weren’t no
place for a man to be anyway. Get on home to your family,” Lou
stated. “Why isn’t Mrs. Tolliver or someone else in here,
instead of Mark. This isn’t no place for him.”
“Lou, right now, Mark is fine where he is. I want him where he
is. Just hold the sheet up, if you please.”
Hattie arrived a short time later and took the sheet from Lou.
Lou rinse a towel in water and wiped the perspiration from
As night fell, Mrs. Tolliver lit the lamps around the house and
brought them into the parlor. Abigail’s contractions continued
until after three o’clock in the morning, when a rather strong
“Come one Abby, one more push, one more push and our baby will
“I can’t. I’m too tired,” Abigail pleaded.
“Mark, when the next contraction strikes, I want you to help
push down on Abigail’s belly, from the top of her belly and push
towards her pelvis. We need to help the baby out if Abigail
can’t push hard enough.”
Abigail screamed again. “Now, Abigail, Mark, push!” Thadd
Mark pushed as directed, praying to God he was doing good. He
felt Abigail’s finger nails tear into his forearms as she fought
against the pain.
“It’s a girl, Abby! It’s a girl!” Thadd yelled. He tied off the
umbilical cord and cut it. He held his daughter upside down and
gave her a good smack on the behind. With the first smack
nothing, happened. Thadd smacked the baby again, this time, his
daughter protested loudly. He handed the baby to Hattie and told
her to clean the baby and then wrap her in towels. Mrs. Tolliver
led the way to the kitchen.
“Mark, go ahead and lay Abigail backwards. Let her rest against
you. It’ll be a few more minutes to take care of her and clean
Mark let Abigail rest back against him, saw her breathing
heavily. He took a damp cloth offered by Lou and wiped the sweat
off Abigail’s face. He watched as her breathing returned to
Once Thadd was finished his task, he asked Mark to help him lift
and carry Abigail and lay her down on the couch. Shortly, Hattie
returned with a bundle in her arms. Lou quickly scurried Mark
from the parlor and told him to get to the jail and get some
sleep. As he left, he heard Thadd talking to his wife, helping
her position their daughter so she could nurse for the first
Lucas arrived at the boarding house, after dropping Milly, Hope,
and the children off in front of the church the following
morning, curious how Abigail, Thaddeus, and their baby were, and
wondering where Mark was.
“All three are doing fine. They’re sleeping in the parlor,” Lou
“I take it Mark’s upstairs?”
“Lucas, I don’t know where Mark went after I pushed him out of
here,” Lou stated.
“Well, when was that?”
“It was after three this morning. I’m sure he’s fallen asleep
over at the jail. Why don’t you check there.”
“I did. That’s when Johnny and Micah told me you were over here
still. Mark wasn’t in the jail when they arrived this morning
and he didn’t make it back to the ranch last night.”
“Maybe he went to Hattie and Mica… Guess if he’d gone there,
Micah would have known. Lucas I’m sorry,” Lou stated as she
heard the baby crying inside. “If I see him, I’ll tell him
you’re looking for him.”
Lucas turned and walked to the livery. Blue Boy was still in his
stall, so Lucas knew Mark hadn’t left town. ‘But where can he
be?’ Lucas thought to himself as he climbed back down from
checking the hayloft. Finally, he returned to the Marshal’s
“Any luck, LucasBoy?” Micah asked.
“No, I don’t know where he could be.”
“Well, maybe he found someplace to curl up and sleep,” Johnny
Johnny was trying to get Lucas to sit down when Reverend
McCafferty walked into the office. “Good morning. Micah, I
wanted to report that when I arrived at the church for services
this morning, I found the back door broken in.”
“Was anything taken, Reverend,” Micah asked.
“No, nothing was taken, but whoever it was, left this for you on
the alter Johnny.” Reverend McCafferty handed a note to Drako.
“Johnny?” Micah asked as he watched Johnny open the envelope and
pull out a note.
“All it says is, ‘I’m out and I’m here’”.
“Reverend, thank you for bringing the note over,” Micah said. “I
think you should return to the church, it’s almost time for
services. Lucas, why don’t you go back with him, Johnny and I’ll
keep and eye open for Mark. I’m sure he just fell asleep
Lucas and the Reverend were rounding the corner of the church
when they saw five riders stop in front of the church. As they
dismounted, they pulled their rifles out. Two of the men walked
to the top of the steps and closed the doors of the church. They
turned around and nodded. Lucas pushed Reverend McCafferty back
against the building.
“Reverend, back to Micah’s, now!” Lucas urgently whispered.
Micah, Johnny and Lucas watched as three men walked down the
center of the street, towards the Marshal’s Office.
“DRAKO!” the middle one yelled.
“Lucas, Micah, this isn’t your fight,” Johnny stated.
“Not our fight?” Micah repeated.
“That middle one is Quince Merriweather. We rode together a long
time ago. I didn’t care for one of his plans so I rode separate.
Heard later he and a few of the others got caught and sent to
prison. Now we know who left the note at the church for me.”
“Johnny, as a deputy of this town, your fight is our fight,”
Lucas stated. And his look told Johnny they weren’t going to
take no for an answer. Micah pulled out a badge and tossed it to
The three left the Marshal’s Office and stepped to the street.
“What do you want Merriweather?” Johnny hollered.
“You, and this town. Seems you owe it to me.”
“I owe you nothing. It was your plan. I wasn’t there,” Drako
“Maybe, but maybe you told the law. Don’t matter, I’m taking the
law into my own hands. No law man’s going to push me around
again. Today, I do the pushing. See, I got me my own badge.”
With that, Merriweather opened his jacket and showed a badge
pinned to his vest.
Johnny, Micah, and Lucas watched as the one called Merriweather
rubbed his shirt sleeve over the badge.
“You know Drako, seems this town’s got a lot of deputies. Right
now, one of them ain’t a deputy any more. Drako, maybe you
should have taught your deputy to carry a hand gun instead of a
rifle. Got me a real pretty badge and rifle, to boot from him.
He sure knows how to fight like a hellion. Don’t he, Pete.”
Shock ripped through all three when they realized who
Merriweather was referring to, as they watched the big man to
the left of Merriweather rub at his cheek.
Johnny told Lucas, “Lucas, keep quiet and keep your temper. He
wouldn’t have killed the boy. If so, he’d of been bragging on
“Real pretty badge, eh?” Johnny called out. “But the badge
doesn’t make the man. It’s the other way around, and I don’t
think you make the badge.”
“Maybe, but I want you out of this town and you’ll make me the
Marshal,” Merriweather stated as he rubbed at the badge.
“This town deserves better than the likes of you.”
“Drako, Drako, you know the only way I’ll let you stay in this
town is six feet under. Your ‘respectable’ friends are welcome
to stay, but you… You’ll have to leave. Me and my boys will give
you, say an hour to think it over.”
Johnny, Micah, and Lucas watched as the three headed to
Sweeney’s and sat down in the chairs outside the doors. They
stepped back to the Marshal’s office.
“You really think they have Mark and he’s okay?” Micah asked.
“I’m sure of it. Quince knows how to use a bargaining chip. If
Mark was dead, he’d be bragging on it. Right now they’ve got him
From the window they watched the men, talking and laughing. A
knock was heard at the back door to the Marshal’s office, Micah
opened the door and allowed Reverend McCafferty inside.
“Lucas, from what I can tell, they’ve not entered the church.
They’re just preventing anyone else from entering or exiting,”
the Reverend informed them.
“So Johnny,” Lucas stated. “What do we do now?”
“We’ll have to let them make their next move,” Johnny stated.
“I’m sorry Lucas, but yours isn’t the only family involved this
An hour later, Merriweather and his men stood from their chairs
and walked to the street again.
“Hey Drako! What’s it going to be? You riding for the hills?
Leaving the town to me?”
“Can’t do that,” Drako replied as they walked back to the
“Then a standoff is what we have. Who’s going to draw first? And
if there’s gunfire, does that signal the others to start
shooing?” Before he even finished speaking, Merriweather and his
men went for their guns.
After the last shot was fired, they saw three men lying dead on
the ground. They heard several more shots off in the distance.
Drako and Lucas got to their feet, looked over and saw Micah
rolling over to sit up. “Guess I was a little too slow,” Micah
stated as he poked a finger through the hole in the side of his
vest. “Seems Hattie’s going to need to do some mending.”
“Micah, you hit?” Lucas asked as he rushed to his friend’s side.
“No, just my vest.”
“Guess you weren’t too slow, if all they got was your vest,”
Drako said as he started walking towards the dead outlaws.
Coming from the church, they saw Johnny Gibbs, Oat Jackford and
others running towards them, guns drawn.
Drako bent over and pulled the badge from Merriweather’s vest,
picked up Mark’s rifle, then called out, “I want every available
man, in the saddle and at the church in ten minutes. They have
Mark McCain hidden somewhere.”
Before heading out, Micah ordered several men to pull the dead
carcasses off the street and get them to the undertakers. To
those remaining, he said, “Drako, you take five men and head out
after the two who rode away. The rest of you, we’ll back track,
and look for Mark.”
As the posse gathered in front of the church, Micah watched as
Lucas walked from the church, followed by Milly and Hope, crying
and praying for the posse to find Mark.
As the posse rode away, Reverend and Maggie McCafferty helped
Milly and Hope get the children over to the hotel. Hattie had
wanted them to be at her home, but they insisted on staying at
the hotel. They knew it was closer to Doc’s, as they tried to
keep their fears to themselves.
Lou arrived shortly, after hearing the news. She set to work
fixing food for those waiting, trying her best to keep Milly and
Hope occupied and their minds off their worries, by telling them
about the birth of Thadd and Abigail’s daughter.
Lucas back tracked the outlaws, following the tracks they left
when they were heading into town, but eventually lost them as
they crossed a grassy plain.
“Damn,” Lucas stated as he led Blade back to the group.
“Okay men,” Micah hollered. “We spread out from here, head
towards the trees. Anyone finds Mark, set out a yell.”
They continued to search as the sun crossed the afternoon sky.
Micah and Lucas had stopped to talk when they heard a yell
coming up the line to their right. They raced their horses and
arrived to see a figure hanging by his wrists from a tree, with
Nils holding him up, and Stevan Griswald reaching up from his
horse to cut the rope. Lucas jumped from Blade and ran to Nils,
lifting Mark a little higher. Then feeling Mark’s full weight in
their arms, hearing a groan, they laid Mark to the ground. Lucas
removed the gag from his son’s mouth, as Mark started to regain
“Mark, can you hear me?” Lucas asked as he slapped Mark’s face.
“Pa?” Mark asked as he moaned again.
Stevan finished cutting the ropes from Mark’s wrists and ankles.
“Micah, bring me a canteen,” Lucas ordered. The searchers
gathered around the scene. Thankful for their success. Seth
handed his canteen to Lucas as Micah was talking to the others,
telling them to head on home. Asking that Stevan let Milly and
Hope know that Mark was found safe. “We’ll return after Mark’s
had a chance to recover for a little bit.”
Mark moaned as he tried to take the canteen from his Pa. “Mark,
where does it hurt son?”
“My arms. Pa. My shoulder,” Mark answered as he rested back
against Lucas’ chest. Lucas held the canteen for his son to
Micah returned to them and looked Mark once over. “Boy, you’re
going to have one nasty black eye come tomorrow. Can you tell us
Mark proceeded to say how Lou had shooed him out of the boarding
house. He wasn’t really tired, so he decided to walk the town.
Next thing he knew, two men had guns on him. “One tried to take
my rifle and guess I should have remembered what you said, not
to go looking for trouble. Well, I wasn’t really thinking and I
took a swing at him, I connected with my first punch, but he was
a big man. And we fought for a while before the other knocked me
“Yeah, we saw your handy work earlier,” Micah stated. “Not sure
whose black eye is worse, boy.”
“Pa? What did they want? They never said anything before they
left me hanging from that tree,” Mark said.
“They were old friends of Johnny Drako’s. Seems they wanted to
drive Johnny out of town and take over,” Lucas answered.
“Don’t worry boy. Three of them are dead and the two that got
away, well, Drako and the others are on their trail,” Johnny
Gibbs stated as he and Ethan approached after collecting the
horses standing around the clearing.
After allowing Mark to rest for half an hour, Lucas asked, “You
think you’re up to riding double?”
Lucas took Mark by the left arm to help him up. As he lifted, an
involuntary groan escaped Mark, as he fell back to the ground,
clutching his shoulder.
“Mark, let me take a look.” Johnny examined Mark’s shoulder,
then turning to Micah, “You still have that flask of yours?”
“Johnny?” Lucas asked.
“Riding bronc’s, I’ve dislocated my shoulder a few times in my
younger days. Sorry Lucas, but Mark’s shoulder is dislocated.
Thought maybe I could give him some of Micah’s whiskey to help
numb the pain before I reset the shoulder.”
“Sorry, Johnny. I gave up carrying my flask a long time ago.”
“Mark,” Lucas said. “When did they do this to you?”
“They didn’t. I was struggling to try to get myself out of the
tree and I dislocated my shoulder, myself. I guess I passed out
when I felt it happen,” Mark replied to his father. Then turning
to his uncle, “What if you just place my arm in a sling and wait
for Doc to set it?” he asked as he held his arm in place.
“Sorry nephew. It’s best to reset it as soon as possible.” Then
turning to Lucas and Seth, “You’ll have to help hold him while I
Lucas and Seth held Mark tight. “Mark, here, bite down on this
piece of wood. I’m really sorry, because I know how much this is
going to hurt. But believe me, once I…” he reset it before he
finished his sentence. Mark screamed before he passed out from
“Lucas, I’m sorry. It had to be done. He’ll be alright, though
you might want to get his arm in a sling while he’s
About ten minutes later, Mark woke. “Sorry Mark. You forgive
me?” Johnny asked.
Mark smiled weakly and nodded, as Lucas and Seth helped him to
As they walked to the horses, Mark realized Lucas had brought
Blade instead of Razor.
“If you remember, today is Sunday and I brought our family to
town in the buckboard. Blade was the only saddle horse I owned,
who was in town.”
“If you don’t mind Pa, I think I’ll ride double with Uncle
Johnny. His horse is a little bit smoother ride than Blade.
Besides, Blade doesn’t need both our weights on his back, just
Seth and Ethan held the other horses, while Micah held Johnny’s
horse, Johnny mounted first and then Lucas helped Mark get on
board, behind his Uncle. The six rode for North Fork.
“LucasBoy, I’m going to ride on ahead and let Doc Burrage know
what’s up. I’ll see you when you get to town.”
Hope, Milly, and Annie were anxiously waiting inside the clinic
when their men arrived. Mark wrapped his good arm around his
wife as he gave her a hug and then kissed her on top of the
head. “I’ll be all right Hope. What say you let the doc have a
look at me?” Hope took a step away and Mark wiped his thumb
across her face to wipe away her tears.
Doc Burrage gave Hope a bottle of witch-hazel, “Just rub some of
this around the bruise, but make sure not to get any in his eye.
As for the shoulder, Johnny, you reset it nicely. Mark, I want
your arm in a sling, except for when you’re walking the town,
you can stretch it around some then. And if you can, I want you
to ice it down four times a day for about twenty minutes each
time, for the next two days. I’ll let you know if you should
continue when you come back Wednesday morning.”
“So does this mean that I’m out a deputy?” Micah asked.
“No, just don’t want him getting into any fist fights or
chopping wood, for the next week. Except when walking the town,
I want your arm in the sling until Saturday,” Thadd stated.
“Now Mark, remove your shirt, I’m sure that during your little
fist fight, you took a few blows to the ribs. Let me see ‘em.”
After examining Mark’s ribs, “Well, they are a little tender,
but I don’t think any are broken or separated. Just a good
bruising. Hope, make sure you use the witch-hazel here on his
left side too.” Then noticing the scratches on Mark’s forearms,
“Mark what happened here?”
“Your wife. If you remember, I was helping to push when the last
contraction hit. Well, Abigail kind of dug her fingernails in.”
“Let me get some ointment on those as well as the rope burns on
your wrists.” After applying the ointment and saying it would be
best to leave them unbandaged, Thadd stated, “Okay, now that
I’ve done my job, if you’ll excuse me, I have a family to get
“Sorry Doc,” Mark stated. “By the way, congratulations. Have you
“We kind of thought about Savannah Marie, but we’ve been
mesmerized by the whole thing, we haven’t give a name much more
thought. It’s quite remarkable, holding your baby in your arms
for the first time. But then you know that, don’t you.”
“Thank you, Doc. Why don’t you go back to your family and let me
tend to mine,” Hope stated as she started to button Mark’s
shirt. Her eyes telling Mark to ‘let her do it’. Lucas tied the
sling around the back of Mark’s neck and helped him get his arm
After dinner at the hotel, Mark led his family upstairs to a
room. After helping Hope feed and change the boys, and then put
them down for the night, he walked down the hall and drew a hot
bath. He was stiff and sore from the events of the day. After
stripping, he stepped into the tub and lowered himself down,
relaxing, letting the heat penetrate his muscles.
Mark closed his eyes, thinking of everything that had
transpired, Abigail and Thadd’s baby, the fight, then being
strung up by his wrists, having his family find him... He rubbed
at his shoulder as he remembered struggling, trying to free
himself. He involuntarily shivered as he remembered the pain in
his shoulder. Mark’s mind was brought back to present when he
felt soft, gentle hands massaging his shoulders, and from behind
heard “I was so scared. I thanked God for allowing you to come
home, when Stevan brought us word you were found.”
“Hope, I…” Mark started to speak, but Hope moved around to face
“Please, let me speak. I wanted you to know, I was so… scared.
If something happened to you… and you didn’t come home to us. I
needed to tell you before you saw it in my eyes. Mark, I know
this is your job and I will thank God for every day he allows us
to share. Every time you leave, I pray to God to protect you. I
won’t ask you to stop. I understand, this is who you are. I just
need you to understand that each time when you are away, I’ll be
scared. I don’t want to be left alone.
And when you do come home, I will be more protective of you for
a while, and thankful for having you back in my life.”
“Hope, I understand your fears. They’re the same fears I have,
but I can’t let my fears stop me from being who I am -- that’s
the real lesson I learned after I came home. Hope, I pray to God
that he’ll watch over you and the boys, were something to
happen. But believe me, Pa and Ma, they’ll be there for you.
You’ll never be alone.”
Mark picked up Hope’s hand and kissed it. Hope picked up the
sponge and the bar of soap and started to bathe him.
That night, as they laid down in the bed, Mark quickly fell
asleep. Hope heard Mark’s breathing indicate he was asleep, she
rolled over and watched him. Again, silently thanking God for
protecting him, this time. Hope remembered back to the first day
they met. Her mind then played out other important days from
their lives, the day Mark had really kissed her for the first
time. The day he proposed. Their wedding day. That day outside
of Fort Sam. The birth of their sons. The day she’d said those
hurtful words to him. Then, the day he came home. Then today.
“God, Mark’s only been a part of my life for a few years, yet, I
can’t imagine life without him. Please watch over him,” she
silently prayed as she watched his chest rise and fall while he
She heard the baby’s stir in their cradles. She went to the
hotel kitchen and prepared their bottles. Saw the time on the
clock; it was after two in the morning. Once the boys were fed,
Hope slipped back into bed.
Mark woke to find Hope restlessly sleeping. He quietly dressed
and heard his sons stirring. He slipped from the room to find
Ethan and Annie entering the hallway from their room.
“Good Morning,” he quietly spoke, “Ethan, Annie, can you help me
this morning? I don’t think Hope got much sleep last night and I
need to get the boys fed…”
“Sure Mark,” Ethan spoke. “I’d love the chance to look after my,
As they entered the room, they saw Hope’s restless state.
“Mark, let us take care of the boys. You stay here with Hope.
I’m sure she could use you being close to her when she does
wake,” Annie whispered.
Mark closed the door behind Ethan and Annie. He removed his
boots and gently slipped back into bed. Brushed back a stand of
hair from Hope’s face and quietly said, “I’m here love. I’ll
always be with you. Shhhh, just sleep.”
Drako and the others returned to town later the day after the
shoot out. Drako entered the Marshal’s to see Micah sitting
behind the desk, leafing through posters. “Sorry Micah. We lost
their trail. I take it you found Mark? Was he okay?”
“We found him late yesterday afternoon, he’s fine, least he will
be. Just suffered a dislocated shoulder. His uncle set it after
we found him and Doc looked him over last night.”
“So, we’re down a deputy?” Drako asked.
“Na, he’s walking the town right now. Doc said as long as he
didn’t get into any fist fights or chop wood for the week, he
could still work his shifts.”
“Well, since I’m back, why don’t you head on home. I’m sure
Hattie would love to spend some time with you.”
“Thanks Johnny. Think I just might do that. She said we weren’t
expecting any children at the day care today. So I just might
get some quiet time with my wife.”
“Go and enjoy it!” Johnny stated with a grin as Micah left the
office. He smiled even broader when Lou entered the office
carrying a basket. “A woman after my own heart.”
“Saw you come back and thought you might be hungry. You didn’t
leave with much before you headed out after those men.”
Lou set the basket down on the desk and started to pull out a
meal for Johnny.
“Who’s watching Connor while you’re over here?”
“Hope’s at the hotel with the twins and she said she’d watch
Connor. She and Mark spent the night, he didn’t want to leave
Micah alone in town, in case those men doubled back and Hope
didn’t want to leave Mark.”
“I can understand that. Come here woman,” Johnny stated as he
placed his hands around Lou’s waist and pulled her to sit on his
lap. “I missed you while I was gone. How’s our newest Drako
“Our newest Drako is doing just fine.”
Mark cleared his throat as he stood in the doorway, eyes
averted. “If you two will excuse me?” Johnny and Lou hadn’t
heard him enter. Both blushed a little as Lou stood from
Johnny’s lap. “Welcome back Johnny, I take it you didn’t catch
the other two?”
“We lost their trail late last night. I tried picking it up this
morning, but, they took to covering their trail. I’m sorry,
“Nothing to be sorry about. If I’d been paying attention instead
of walking around in a dream, they wouldn’t have gotten the jump
on me. And yesterday wouldn’t have happened.”
“Mark, whether they got the jump on you or not, Quince would
have still tried to take the town. Boy, don’t go feeling you’re
to blame. Best you get to the café and have lunch with your
family, saw Hope and the Lane’s heading that way a few minutes
“Thanks Johnny, I’ll be back in an hour.”
“See you later Mark,” Lou and Johnny stated together.
Next Step — The Legacy
This is a story based on the TV
series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch